Sunday, August 7, 2016

Har HaBayit BiYadeinu! Reflections for Tisha B’Av

     The Nine Days are, unfortunately, here once again.  One more year of mourning for the lost Beit Hamikdash.  One more year of introspection into what we have not done to sufficiently merit its rebuilding after the coming of Moshiach, in keeping with the famous dictum of Chazal, "Every generation that does not merit the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, is considered as if it was destroyed in their time” (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1).   We will, in addition to reading Eicha, saying Kinos, and mourning, wait to be enlightened by the wonderful work of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation and a great assortment of other sources as to what societal ills we might think about this year, in order to lessen unwarranted hatred (Sinat Chinam) and other personal sins.    This is important work, and in fact, as many have pointed out, perhaps the onset of the Teshuva process that continues with Elul and culminates on Yom Kippur. 

It is incumbent upon us to reflect on Tisha B’Av in light of the incredible gift that Hashem has given us in our time

     It strikes me, however, that there is another aspect of the Tisha B’Av experience that is too often missing from our commemoration of the day; particularly outside the Land of Israel, but there as well.   It believe that it is incumbent upon us to reflect on Tisha B’Av in light of the incredible gift that Hashem has given us in our time, on the unprecedented return of close to half of our people to Eretz Yisrael, and the return of sovereignty over it to the Jewish people, albeit in the far from perfect form that is Medinat Yisrael.

     It is (or ought to be) obvious that the Tisha B’Av mourning that we engage in today is in a very different context than that of the Jewish world just seventy years ago, when the overwhelming majority of  Jews lived in Europe, Africa, Asia, America ; i.e. places other than Eretz Yisrael.  To not do so, in my view, not only divorces the day from the real world, but makes much of the liturgy difficult to say with proper kavanah, as the literal meaning of many of the words seem incongruous in our reality . 

     Reading, for example, the words of Nacheim, that we recite at Mincha on Tisha B’Av, we refer to the city of Jerusalem as “ruined, scorned, and desolate: mournful without her children, ruined without her abodes, desolate without inhabitants”. It is quite difficult to square those statements with the vibrant bustling overcrowded populace of Jerusalem, that pulsates with Jewish life and Torah and holiness that we have come to know and love. 

     Of course, I am far from the first to comment on this. After the Six Day war, there was much debate about whether it was appropriate to change that Tefilla, with the majority of Poskim opting to leave it as is.  They pointed to the fact that the Beit HaMikdash is not yet rebuilt; that much of the city is controlled by non-Jews, including those who hate us; that the spiritual level of the Jewish people is not yet of the caliber that the city can feel that it has its true inhabitants back yet.  I suppose that most of us who bother to think about this have come to some of these same conclusions, or some combination of them.[1]  Thus while we do not change the actual text of what we say, surely one’s thoughts are, or should be, taking into account the reality in which we live.

     My sensitivity to this concern today stems from our general feelings about Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim not only on Tisha B’Av, but all the time.  Some Orthodox people see the State of Israel as a wonderful gift from Above, a matter of huge religious significance, as the Aschalta D’Geulah, (the beginning of the final great redemption) for which we have longed and prayed for thousands of years.  Imperfect as it may be from a religious and Halachic point of view, there is so much good — so much Torah being learned, so many people keeping mitzvos including mitzvos that were dormant for millennia, so many mekomos hakedoshim that we have become reacquainted with in the Holy Land —that we should bow our heads daily and thank the Ribbono Shel Olam for Medinat Yisrael.  Moreover, we ought to have great national pride that in our own country! It is an amazing place where any unbiased observer stands of awe of its economic, agricultural, technological, cultural and military accomplishments; we should feel constant gratitude about it.  

     Others see only problems.   They point to huge numbers led away from Torah observance by the rise of Zionism and the State of Israel.  The very anti-religious nature of many of its early leaders, the unfortunately true episodes of when impressionable Jews were intentionally and forcibly ripped away from Torah and observance are not only unforgivable, but to their mind, still a major part of the Zionist enterprise.  Even those who do not go as far as the Satmar Rav zt”l’s opinion that the Medina was the work of the Satan, refuse to grant any religious significance to the State, to recite the prayer for it or its soldiers on Shabbos, to not say Tahanun on Yom HaAtzma’ut, and in fact think of it as the latest — and perhaps most insidious ­— form of Golus, an Exile in our own land enforced by our own people. 

    These two groups see Tisha B’Av in very different ways.  The first mourn the lack of a Bet Hamikdash and the incomplete Geulah, while looking at much of the horror of the Churban and many episodes of Jewish History as something firmly in the past. The second pay little or no heed to anything that has happened in Eretz Yisrael over the past century; to the extent that modern times are considered it is largely regarding the Holocaust.

     Although it seems that more and more people are being drawn to one or the other camp, and are being indoctrinated from early age in one or the other opinion, I still want to believe that there is a Middle Road — one that is populated by many silent voices — that see a path somewhere between these positions.  There are those, like myself, who on the one hand are deeply appreciative of the gift of Medinat Yisrael; who see unlimited potential in this opportunity, who see the glory of the People coming back to their Homeland and marvel in its accomplishments and are fiercely proud of and supportive of the Israel Defense Forces and the enormous advances in religious life there; yet on the other hand feel deep pain when seeing the secular depravity in so much of the country and in hearing pronouncements of many of the State leaders and intelligentsia, and who shudder when seeing some of the causes that so many in Israel are devoted to and feel exasperated when religious life is mocked and ridiculed so openly in the media and the press.  It is the path of the Ponovezher Rav, who said neither Hallel nor Tachanun on Yom HaAtzma’ut while demanding that the Israeli flag be flown at the Yeshiva.  Those in the middle certainly have much to reflect upon on Tisha B’Av.

     In a future article I hope to convey the wonderful way in which Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch perfectly captured the situation in which we find ourselves, and gave us a very important way to think about it.  For now, I would like to conclude with one final reflection, having to do with the Har Habayit, the Temple Mount.

     There has been a recurring issue over the past several years in regard to Jewish Prayer on the Temple Mount, with strong feelings on both sides of the issue.  

     There are those who are certain that (after careful research in exact measurements that we are now privy to that were unavailable to previous generations) not only is it permissible to pray on certain areas of the Har Habayit, but it is important to do so.  One of the worst decisions of the Israeli government ever, they say, was Moshe Dayan’s decision in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, to publicly “hand the keys” of the Temple Mount back to the Waqf, giving the Arabs sole authority over the area at a time that Israel could have done whatever she wanted.  That a Jew can be arrested and imprisoned for moving his or her lips on the Temple Mount in a way that might be praying, is a self-inflicted insult and travesty, and one that every sense of Jewish pride must oppose.  

     Others, however, besides disagreeing on Halachic grounds about the propriety of going anywhere on the Har Habayit, see the “Temple Mount Faithful” as dangerous lunatics who are giving the Arabs a provocative excuse to attack and kill Jews, and “are directly responsible for bloodshed in Israel”.

     In the aforementioned future article, I would like to discuss this dilemma in greater detail.  But for our purposes now, in regard to Tisha B’Av, the realization of the reality of our helplessness  despite the fact that we are ostensibly in control of the very epicenter of our dreams and hopes, this sense of “so close and yet so far”, is surely yet another area for rumination on this national Day of Mourning.

     My Rebbe in Eretz Yisrael once said that in thinking about this, we should recognize that Gen. Motta Gur was, whether he knew it or not, speaking prophetically when triumphantly and famously declaring at the moment of victory “Har Habit Biyadeinu, Har Habit Biyadeinu!” (The Temple Mount is in our hands!).  He surely was speaking in the euphoria of victory in that glorious 1967 battle.   Nonetheless, what he said goes much deeper, and ought to be fodder for our thoughts, especially on Tisha B’Av. 

     Whether we will merit to have the Beit Hamikdash again, speedily in our days, is indeed largely in “our hands”.   It is up to us to correct the many interpersonal issues that plague us, the Lashon Hara, the Sinat Chinam, and all the other matters that draw us apart and prevent the Moshiach from coming.   At the same time, it seems to me that we need to tell the Ribbono Shel Olam that while we are so very grateful for His bringing us once again so close to Him in his Holy Land and Holy City, and to be living in a time that our grandparents could have only dreamed of, we still long so much for a Geulah Sheleima and Yerushalayim Habenuya Be’Emet, when there will be the peace and glory of Hashem’s serene presence in the Bet Hamikdash Bimheyra Beyameinu. 

Truly, Har Habayit Biyadeinu!

[1] On a personal note, when I had the privilege of being in Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av in years past, I would go up to Har HaTzofim (Mt Scopus), where I could observe Shualim Hilchu Bo, the haters roaming over the Har Habayit (Temple Mount) as we were privileged only to pray on the outside of the Wall (Kotel).  I would intensify this feeling by then going for Mincha to the Kotel HaKatan, a strip of the Kotel deep in the Moslem quarter that looks and probably feels much as the Kotel did before 1948, and where I could more readily connect to the Tisha B’Av feeling of loss and mourning.

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